Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Fight With United States Soccer

I’ve been a certified soccer referee since 1990. That’s a long time! Back in high school, this was the perfect job. I made pretty good money, and I only worked weekends which allowed me to participate in school activities and (to my parents’ approval) not have to worry about balancing homework with a job during the week. I didn’t ref much during college though I always managed to work a big tournament when I got home for the summer. (Hi Edinboro University!) I took several years off after college, during graduate school (where I already had three jobs), and in my early professional career.

With my wife busy with work and graduate school, I had some extra time and decided to get back into being a soccer referee. I got recertified and got connected with an outstanding youth association in Northern Virginia, who truly supports their referees. I got paid to exercise! I’ve continued to work as a ref since then doing games for kids as young as 8 up to adult league games. I’ve had to cut back my time working as a ref significantly with three kids, particularly since I was an assistant coach for two teams this spring. Even in the rare instance when I planned on working some games last month, I had to cancel one set of games since my middle son had to go to the emergency room in what turned out to be two broken bones in his left arm. I felt awful for retuning the games only an hour before I was to be at the field, but my kid+emergency room took priority. It was the only time I ever had to cancel games and the referee assigner was extremely supportive. This is a really long introduction to my recent correspondence with the United States Soccer Federation ("USSF").

Here we go:

Dear USSF,

My name is Sean, and I've been a certified referee for approximately 25 years. I've enjoyed working as a referee since I was a teenager and now also coach my kids' teams. The reason that I'm writing is because referee fees go up every year, yet, it seems like referees get less and less for these fees. Specifically, we used to receive a paper copy of The Laws of the Game annually, and we haven't received a copy in years. While I understand that the Laws expanded greatly over the last few years, I still like having a handy reference at the field or after the game instead of trying to find something in a PDF format on my phone. Basically, I'm writing to see how I can get a free paper copy of The Laws. I find it completely unreasonable that our fees go up each year, and if we want a paper copy of The Laws, we need to pay for it.

Thank you,

The reply:

Hi Sean,

Unfortunately, we cannot distribute a free copy of the IFAB Laws of the Game. You can access them with the pdf attached or through the free app “Laws of the Game” in the app store.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

My turn:

Thank you for your quick response. I guess my question is why are you unable to distribute copies of the Laws to referees? It seems like this should be a part of the fees we pay for recertification each year.

I sent a second similar message to USSF 9 days later after not receiving a response. After the second message, I received this reply:

Hi Sean,

Although we appreciate your desire to always have a physical copy handy, it no longer makes sense to distribute over a 100,000 physical copies for free when it can just be accessed online.

We understand where you are coming from, but hope you can respect our rationale with this.

My turn again:

Dear U.S. Soccer Referee Program,

Thanks again for your response. While I understand that it's probably cost prohibitive to print a physical copy for all refs every year, it seems like it could be done once and then (like we do now) we get a printed few pages of only the changes from one year to the next. I guess my main question is this. If it doesn't make sense to print physical copies, why are referee fees going up each year? Where are our fees going? Is there somewhere online (or even a printed copy!) where referees can see the budget specifically for referees?

I sent a second message to USSF after not getting a response for a week, and it appears that I'm not going to get a response to this one.

Look, I know this is a somewhat trivial fight. It really isn’t that big a deal that the Laws of the Game are only available online. I’m just a little old-fashioned. I’d much rather read a physical book than to try to read one on my phone or tablet. I even have a blog and few people have blogs anymore! I just prefer having a physical copy of the Laws. I'm also not happy that fees go up each year, and we were just required to purchase new uniforms since (I believe) a new company now makes the shirts and USSF didn't want refs to wear the logo for the old company on the uniforms. All of this and I want BBQ Fritos back! Well, at least I’m comforted in knowing that my referee fees are going to the US women’s national team which will receive an equal amount of money for winning the World Cup as the men’s team would have received for winning the World Cup.

Wait, what?

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